As I write this I’ve got 70 unread emails in my inbox and a to-do list stretching into the distance, so it’s fitting this article is about feeling overwhelmed at work. Hopefully the strategies that I use to cope, can help you too.
cut your work in half by getting organised first
When facing a mountain of work, I react in one of two ways. If I have a clear deadline and set of priorities I stay focussed and power through on adrenaline. If the deadline isn’t hard and fast and everything is of a similar level of importance, I procrastinate.
That’s when I start writing a list. This helps me to visualise my workload as smaller more achievable jobs, rather than the daunting mass it is in my brain. There’s also a real sense of satisfaction when you start crossing things off.
When I write a list I give each task a self-imposed deadline and ask myself several questions:
- Am I the best person to do this? Is it essential that I do this? Can someone else do it for me? If the answer to any of these questions is a no, it gets emailed to someone else or deleted from the inbox.
- Is this a quick win? If it is, I add it to the top of the list. Quick wins make me feel that I am making progress and are good for morale.
- Are other tasks relying on this one to be done first? If so, it gets added to the list above those tasks.
- Does this need to be completed today, this week or next week? This helps me see my tasks as a timeline of events that I need to work through systematically.
know when to take breaks and step away from work
Creating order from chaos gives me a structure to stick to. But I’ve also found stepping away from my workload clears my head and keeps me energised. And I’m not the only one. A recent article claimed that business leaders such as Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg, all follow a five-hour rule. This means they dedicate one hour per business day to reading, reflection or experimentation – if they can, you can too.
I set aside three hours during my working week for exercise. Although I often think I haven’t got the time, it always pays off. I return to my desk feeling refreshed and with a new perspective on how to tackle a problem. Because I work from home I also spend an extra 20 minutes in the morning getting the house in order before I start work, so I’m not spending the rest of the day thinking about emptying the dishwasher.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate a deadline
Develop the self-confidence to say no or push back. The world, or your career, won’t end if you tell a client you’re too busy to get something done, or turn down work because you haven’t got the time to do it justice. In fact rushing and doing a bad job could have a worse impact.
Cut yourself some slack and remember there are only so many hours in a day and you are only one person. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if getting everything done will cause you to burnout, talk to your manager and find a way to manage your workload. A good one will want to help. It might involve bringing in additional expertise, delegating tasks or even parting ways. If you’re self-employed ask other people in your position how they cope, accept you might need to say no to clients and remember to be kind to yourself.
Remaining in a heightened level of stress for too long is bad for your physical and mental wellbeing. No job is worth that.
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